The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem petitioned the High Court of Justice today (31 October 2011), demanding an end to the operation of private security guards deployed through the Ministry of Housing and Construction to protect Jewish residential compounds in East Jerusalem. Through privatizing core policing responsibilities, the authorities have violated the basic rights of Palestinians, endangering life and limb. (HJC 8001/11; excerpts in English here)
Stationed in neighborhoods such as Silwan and the Old City, 350 private security guards, financed by Israeli taxpayers, are charged with protecting some 2,000 Jewish Israeli settlers. The armed guards carry out daily policing duties such as patrols and guard watch in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods, without proper supervision and guidelines. In September 2010, Silwan resident Samer Sarhan was shot and killed by a security guard, and in other cases Palestinian passersby have suffered gunshot wounds.
The guards’ stated mission is to protect Jewish residents from Arab residents, in contradiction of both Israeli and international law, which obligate the Israeli authorities to protect all residents. Over the past twenty years, the rise in numbers of settlers and compounds has increased the budget provided by the Housing Ministry from 7 million NIS in 1991 to 76 million NIS in 2011. Throughout this period, the Modi’in Ezrachi private security company has won the relevant Housing Ministry bids to carry out this operation.
A public committee to examine this policy, convened by former Housing Minister Isaac Herzog and under the direction of Major General (res.) Ori Orr, made the unequivocal recommendation in 2006 that responsibility for the security of these areas should be returned to the Ministry of Internal Security and to the Israel Police. Yet shortly thereafter the government adopted an opposite resolution, preserving the status quo, which stands in violation to several rights and laws, including:
Unlawful Privatization of Policing Duties: The Israel Police have abdicated their role in East Jerusalem as the exclusive authority charged with protecting all residents. Security guards are private citizens who are not civil servants and therefore are not obligated to follow the same norms of equality and due justice.
Disregard for Palestinians’ Rights: The authorities have time and again failed to take into consideration the rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites – who are the overwhelming majority of residents in these areas of the city – and have secluded them from the decision-making process, thus placing the rights and interests of settlers above those of the local Palestinians. The daily presence of the guards in these crowded neighborhoods infringes, among other things, on the freedom of movement of Palestinians (through the closure of streets) and on their right to privacy (violated by security cameras looking into their private domains).
Insufficient Supervision and Ambiguous Norms: The private security guards are authorized to use ammunition and apply physical violence under defined circumstances, in order to protect Jewish residents and their visitors. Their operations are overseen by the Israel Police, but since they are not part of the police force this supervision is severely lacking. The private guards’ norms of conduct are vague and unknown to the local population. It is unclear who is in charge of receiving complaints against them and what measures can be taken, and although the law requires security guards to wear name tags to guarantee accountability, this requirement is overlooked. To date, no security guard operating in East Jerusalem was put on trial.
Lack of Legal Basis: In the petition, ACRI shows that prior to 2007 no legal basis was formed to support the delegation of policing duties in East Jerusalem to private security guards. Government resolution No. 1073, which was passed in January 2007, created a legal basis, but it too is incomplete, because although this form of resolution must be presented by the government to the Knesset, this never happened.
Throughout the years, various officials have questioned this policy. In 2010, Housing Minister Ariel Atias sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, stating that in his opinion the responsibility for security in the area “must be under the professional body in charge of this issue, i.e. the Israel Police,” and not in the hands of the Housing Ministry, a body that is professionally not equipped to deal with security matters.
ACRI Attorney Keren Tzafrir, who wrote the petition, said today: “The state has failed to protect the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, and is instead clearly and unlawfully favoring the protection of settlers who have taken up residency there. ACRI has turned to the Ministries of Housing and Internal Security, as well as to the Prime Minister, demanding change, but what has become clear is that none of the official bodies have taken full responsibility for the work of the private security guards deployed through the Housing Ministry in East Jerusalem”.
Translated excerpts from the petition (English): http://www.acri.org.il/en/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/E-Jlem-Petition-Security-guards-ENG.pdf
Petition 8001/11 (Hebrew): http://www.acri.org.il/he/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/hit8001.pdf